We need to be cold, clear-eyed realists about Putin and the perverse Russia that he has created in his revanchist former-KGB agent image
The United States is far from perfect. We suffer from gross economic inequality, inflated real estate prices in major cities, a cruel healthcare system and a Republican Party that seems hellbent on wrecking democracy. Still, at least in today’s America I get to write this column and show up to work in the morning as an LGBTQ activist.
Had I the misfortune of living in Russia, I would likely be branded a foreign agent, my office raided by police, and the state would be feverishly working to shutter my non-profit organization, Truth Wins Out. At least in the U.S., I am able to stand up and fight for my own equality without being murdered in cold blood, poisoned and then imprisoned for having the temerity of not dying from the mafia-like hit.
Russia proudly targets people like me. They have an Orwellian “gay propaganda” law that puts LGBTQ people at risk, while infringing on freedom of speech and assembly. In a recent lawsuit by the government against the Russian LGBT Network, which it vowed to “liquidate”, the state accused the organization of spreading “LGBT views” and engaging in activities that go against “traditional values. Imagine the “horror” of allowing a besieged minority to fight back against injustice, challenge fake Russian morality plays, make their case to the public and petition the state for more liberty! It’s just unthinkable!
This type of backward, bigoted authoritarianism is why I am glad I live in a sort-of-liberal democracy. It’s why I’ll fight to preserve it against tyrants at home and abroad who want to adopt the oppressive Vladimir Putin/Viktor Orban political paradigm.
Unfortunately, there are many on the American radical right who see Putin as a role model. They admire his attacks on liberals and his opportunistic embrace of “family values.” These U.S. extremists want to impose their beliefs on others, undermine democracy and silence the opposition. They aim to forbid free speech, such as Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, that creates a gag order on discussing LGBTQ related content in schools, or bills that forbid honest, historically accurate discussions of race in classrooms.
Predictably, the same traitors behind the January 6 U.S. Capitol Coup, are now cynically backing efforts to bolster Putin’s probable attack against Ukraine. Haaretz columnist David Rothkopf correctly identified Fox News host Tucker Carlson, Sen. Josh Hawley and former impeached president Donald Trump as some of Putin’s biggest cheerleaders. Rothkopf nailed it when he said they are “Putin’s dream, but America’s worst nightmare.” He declared the seditionists “a repulsive and depraved trio” who are “active partners in Putin’s efforts to gaslight the West on Ukraine and to undermine the Unites States itself.”
Carlson, for his part, is weakening American resolve on the right for upholding democracies, by asking the foolish question, “Why is it disloyal to side with Russia but loyal to side with Ukraine?” Could one imagine a Republican asking that self-evident question even five years ago? To quote White House press secretary Jen Psaki, why are prominent GOP voices “parroting” Russian talking points?
To a significantly lesser degree, there are also those on the left who seem to romanticize Russia, apparently unable to see it for the totalitarian state it is today. The Nation magazine publisher Katrina vanden Huevel has long had rose-colored glasses on Russia. Her magazine has offered scenic travel tours where liberal readers can meet the “The Changing Faces of Russia.” The gaunt, haunted face of Russia that first comes to my mind is Alexander Litvinenko, a Russian dissent who died a miserable death from radiation poisoning in London after Putin’s agents poisoned him with Polonium-210.
Unsurprisingly, vanden Huevel is now serving as Putin’s apologist. She bizarrely wrote of his Ukraine adventurism, that his “goal is the status quo.” The 170,000 troops and the mechanized divisions that are menacing Ukraine’s border certainly don’t look like the status quo to anyone who isn’t towing the Kremlin’s party line. I know vanden Huevel is the publisher of The Nation, but I’m increasingly wondering which nation – the United States or Russia?
We need to be cold, clear-eyed realists about Putin and the perverse Russia that he has created in his revanchist former-KGB agent image. The strongman claims to represent virtues and values, but he commands a filthy rich kleptocracy of soul-selling vultures who are saturated in vice. Russia’s delusional claim of decency is betrayed by its decadence. The declarations of moral superiority belied by its amoral malignancy.
This is a failed country with tainted elections, cowardly invasions of weaker neighbors, the stifling of a free press and the ruthless crushing of internal dissent. As contributing Washington Post columnist Frida Ghitis wrote, “Russia makes headlines for its kleptocracy, repression and mafia-style tactics…modern-day Russia may still inspire fear, but it generates very little in the way of respect.”
Mother Russia also insincerely trumpets religious purity, while the ruling class clings to power by the perpetuation of all that’s impure and putrid. The Russian Orthodox Church blesses the Putin regime’s burglary of the tax-paying rabble’s rubles, in exchange for the corrupt state blessing their holy bank accounts. This explains why Foreign Policy magazine wrote a scathing article headlined, “Russians Are Getting Sick of Church.”
As Putin espouses “traditional values”, his loyal jet set robber barons traipse off to London, Manhattan, Cote d’Azur and South Beach to imbibe like drunkards on The West’s freedom; the very liberty they hypocritically declare to detest at home. Meanwhile, the gullible Russian masses, manipulated by hyper-nationalism and Russian media propaganda, remain mired in penury, or perhaps, they are sinking in Siberia’s melting, muddy permafrost.
It’s worth noting that Russia spans 11 time zones but has a shriveled economy the size of Italy’s. An article by Hromadske International titled, “Russia is Struggling with a Shitty Problem, Literally,” points out that one-fifth of Russians still don’t have indoor plumbing. But, hey, Tucker Carlson thinks it’s a wonderful place and a model for the United States.
While there are massive pockets of poverty in Russia, “Vladimir Palace” and his opulent cronies line their pockets. Konstantin Sonin, professor at the University of Chicago and HSE University in Moscow, told Reuters, “The government doesn’t care much about people outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg.”
Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks cites Fiona Hill and Clifford G. Gaddy’s observation in their book, “Mr. Putin,” that corruption is the glue that holds the system together. Everybody’s wealth is deliberately tainted, so Putin has the power to accuse anyone of corruption and remove anyone at any time.
If Putin’s apologists love Russia so much, they ought to try living there. However, I’m guessing they’d soon miss the freedom the United States gave them to spout disinformation, peddle conspiracy theories and support the enemies of their country without penalty. Somehow, I don’t think that Putin would allow them the unrestrained liberty that made them rich and famous by pawning their patriotism in America.